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It’s all in the preparation

Diane Abbott’s recent media appearances showed the dangers of poor preparation. Without clear thinking from the very start, a public affairs campaign will fail. So what are the key steps to be taken when preparing a campaign?

Abbott’s appearances on the BBC and LBC demonstrated the damage that can be inflicted by the media with a few simple, well-placed questions. Similarly, politicians can ask the same sorts of questions of a campaign. Whereas the Labour Party can try to rebuild its credibility during the rest of the election campaign, your campaign may not be so fortunate. Once damage is inflicted, it is very difficult to undo. You will already have lost the attention of your audiences and undermined your own credibility. The damage has been self-inflicted. That is always the worst type of damage and is the most difficult to recover from.

Simply stated, a poorly prepared campaign can be easily shown up and it inflicts damage on the campaign, the organisation and the people leading it. Speed can be of the essence in developing a campaign but that should not mean that shortcuts are taken. If even the simplest of questions cannot be answered then doubt will be placed besides the whole campaign.

So what preparation should be undertaken:

  1. Research – any issue will have been discussed and considered previously. There are very few completely new ideas in the world. So think about the arguments on both sides and importantly what have politicians said about them. But just because an idea did not work before does not mean it is off the table forever. A change in government or public sentiment can be all important. The latter, especially, may give the campaign a different focus for a while before politicians get interested again.
  2. Timing – you need to know what is going to happen when and how can have any impact. That, in turn, helps you to decide where to targets efforts, on who and what you will be asking them to do.
  3. Q&A – put together your own Q&A so that you can do the analysis and put the campaign through its paces. A good public affairs team will be able to consider the questions that stakeholders will ask and develop the answers as well. If the answers are missing then go back to stage one. Moving ahead and hoping for the best, even if time is pressing, will only lead to disaster.
  4. Training – whether the audience is the media or politicians, the person undertaking the engagement should be trained in advance. The same applies for Select Committee appearances as well. The public affairs team can deliver the opportunities for engagement but this should only be the start. The training needs to focus both on the behaviours of engagement and the narrative of the engagement.
  5. Supporters – rather than striking out on your own from the outset are there already audiences that could be supportive of your campaign? This comes back to good research at the outset but also talks to the need for outreach preferably in advance of any political and media engagement.

Getting the foundations in place will mean the chances of success for the campaign increases. This all points to the need for investment in preparation and to not get too excited, at least to start with, by the aims or potential outcomes.

A cool, level-head approach to preparation, asking the tough questions and applying pressure before others do will stand the campaign in good stead.

If you don’t do this then you can be sure that others will try to knock you down and you will have, however accidentally, helped them.

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Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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